Candy Mouths Are Made of Wax
“Tell me something nobody else knows about you,” he says, sitting across from you at the romantic table. In most settings, he looks like a boy, but sometimes he looks like a man or a cat or a telephone pole. He looks past your left ear when he speaks, like your eyes are the production assistant’s camera, like your eyes are the burning loins–red foxglove on the mantel.
In most settings he looks like a boy, but sometimes he looks like a man, or a cat, or a telephone pole.
“I want babies!” you say, wanting to keep things light. “And I love being here!” You say these things while pulling your dark, tenaciously waved hair behind your ear, looking up at him beneath fluttering eyelashes. Your earring shimmers in the candlelight. You wish you were named Lauren, but your name is not Lauren. You already know he thinks you would make his life more difficult.
“Be raw with me, _______,” he says. “Be real! I feel like I don’t know you as well as the other girls.”
He is giving you a challenge, an ultimatum. You have known each other for three weeks, two hours of which you have spent alone with him. You know more about him than he does about you. His name is the Bachelor, he prefers gray suits, and he is looking for a wife—any wife—to whom he can be husband and marry in a wedding on the happiest day of his life.
“I have walls up,” you say.
“Mm.” The man puts his hand on your hand. “All women wanna be with someone who would be a great dad. Who broke your heart?”
You scramble to think about who could have plastered your walls—mother? Father? Uncle? No, obviously, boyfriend, though there was no one significant, only indiscriminates who almost always looked like boys but sometimes looked like men or cats or telephone poles. He means, what man hurt you, but when you think of who broke your heart, you remember Mrs. Lipstein, your eleventh-grade science teacher, who said you’d never pass AP physics. You’re supposed to talk about a boyfriend, but what breaks your heart is the casual cruelty of strangers who take up the whole sidewalk or bump into you without apology. Really, you’re destroyed by the ever-increasing danger of the world, but you’re supposed to mention a man.
“I’ve been hurt before,” you say. You cry, wiping underneath your eyelid with a manicured finger. The Bachelor looks sympathetic, but his eyes are glassy. “My last relationship ended badly. It’s hard for me to be vulnerable.” You hope your vagueness comes across like heartbreak.
“Thanks for sharing,” he says, stroking your cheek with his knuckles. Suddenly, you don’t recognize him. Tonight’s man might be someone else than the one you talked to last week. Is he a different person? His face looks familiar in some lights, strange in others. “For opening your heart.”
You can’t sit there anymore and take another reaction to your anybody-will-do womanhood, your collective ladyhood. Anyone can give him the wedding he wants. You stroke his forearm to see if underneath the suit jacket there is bone and muscle, or if it’s just plywood, just a steel rod. “Why do you like me?” you ask. This is the most you’ve ever demanded of him.
You stroke his forearm to see if underneath the suit jacket there is bone and muscle, or if it’s just plywood, just a steel rod.
He pauses, thinks. “You’re nice,” he says. “You’re attractive. I like how you’re easy to be around.” These are things one might say about a plush carpet or a rabbit. These are qualities used to describe an inoffensive piece of furniture or a winter coat. “I’m falling for you,” he says, “but I’m scared you’ll never open up.”
His face disorients, clay-like, two thumbs arranging his “falling for you” face. And then: you’re anyone, and no one. And then: your skin is slipping off, your head is sliding from your neck, and you’re gone. You are replaced by a Lauren. You are wearing her dress; hers is silver, yours was blue.
The Bachelor doesn’t notice. The production assistant asks him to shoot the scene again. “Keep your hand on her face the whole time,” he shouts.
“Like this?” the Bachelor says as he rests the tips of his fingers against your Lauren cheek. Lauren has almost entirely taken over: she is your face, she is your stomach, she is your heart. But his expression is the same; he doesn’t know you’re someone else.
“Flat palm,” the production assistant says, and the Bachelor holds what you remember to be a warm hand against your Lauren face. You can barely feel him through her pink-tan skin. “I’m falling for you,” he says again, “but I’m scared you’ll never open up.”
YouLauren is better at this than you are. She tells him what he wants to hear. “I was engaged once, but he cheated on me with a farmhand named Chuck,” she says. You listen to her and feel the color of your hair change to blonde. It’s painful and disorienting, like a drill into the meat of your teeth. It’s destroying you to sit here, but you’ve been so nearly replaced that you can’t move. The body stays. “I shot my dog when he barked too much,” Lauren continues, chuckling at her downhome antics. “Poof! Dead.”
The Bachelor leans back his head and laughs, near authentic.
But then youLauren is serious again, sad. “Once, I ate chalk plaster that they were using to fix the walls of my school.” She covers her mouth with your balled fist, fights to keep talking. “I was married to a rhinoceros, but they annulled it when they discovered we couldn’t reproduce.” She lets tears accumulate behind her eyeliner, a screen against her eye.
The Bachelor nods empathetically. “That’s hard,” he says. “Thanks for sharing. I feel like I know you so much better now.” He picks up the rose from the tray on the table and fingers its stem like he would a lover’s body. The rose could be his wife as well as you could, as well as Lauren could. Marriage is very important, but the subjects involved are not.
Marriage is very important, but the subjects involved are not.
“Lauren,” he says, though your name is _______, “it means so much that you could open up to me. Our relationship grew so much tonight.” She’s done it; she’s won! The relationship, invisible but tangible, grows around you. It reeks of decay like a fungal puffball, yet it’s replicating itself into something adorable and toxic.
“Blah blah blah blah blah!” youLauren responds, dreamily, seductively. Your Lauren eyes glimmer with tears of joy. The Bachelor looks at youLauren tenderly and leans forward for a kiss. His mouth sucks your Lauren lips, siphoning them until they’re replaced with an exaggerated red candy mouth. There is no pain; there is no sensation. You can’t move the lips, but you hope they’re formed into a smile. You hope the mouth satisfies him. He giggles like a thrilled child and nibbles at the corner where the lips meet. A quarter of your lips are gone, replaced with perfect indentations of his teeth. He chews and chews and chews what he’s eaten, but of course he can’t swallow. After all, candy mouths are made of food-grade wax.
About Alicia Bones: I finished my MFA at the University of Montana in 2016. My work has been published in Fairy Tale Review, Queen Mob's Teahouse, Necessary Fiction, Maudlin House, and elsewhere. I live and teach in Tacoma, Washington.
Illustration by Meg Lionel Murphy.